Susan is a former Women’s Center who graciously agreed to be interviewed in 2013 by occupational therapist and oral historian, Claudia Bennett, about her participation in our counseling and job coaching programs.
Ordinarily, given the confidential nature of our Integrated Counseling Services, we don’t give out client names, but Susan has given us permission to use her real first name as well as identifying details. You may meet Susan “in person” by watching this 53-second introduction to her Women’s Center experience.
Susan is a 40-something white Ann Arbor resident with a career as a business networking specialist. She describes The Women’s Center as “the Red Cross for women in the community.” Why? Because “I was in crisis. . .this was like I practically couldn’t function without these [counseling] sessions. And because “you may think you won’t need these services but you might. This could happen to anybody.”
Susan’s crisis began when her husband revealed that he had been having an affair and wanted a divorce. “It was like it was a giant collapse. He was also my business partner. We owned a business together, just the two of us. So in one day my whole life changed completely.”
At first she was in shock, numb and disbelieving. “About three or four months later I realized I really needed help because I didn’t know. I hadn’t planned on ever getting divorced. There was so much legally that I needed to know so I started seeking resources in the community to help me.”
Unlike many of our clients who begin with Personal Counseling before choosing other programs in our continuum of integrated support, Susan found her way to counseling through our Financial and Family Law Education Workshops — a women-only four-part series on the legal and financial aspects of ending a relationship. These eight hours of information and discussion are led by experienced financial advisors and attorney
Over the course of 9 months, Susan benefited from 33 hours of personal counseling, 12 hours of group instruction on finances and family law, and 7 hours of individualized Job Coaching.
Susan participated in a total of 12 hours of divorce information and support because, as she explains, “I took both tracks and I think I took Financial twice because there is so much information. And the women that lead the sessions say, ‘There is going to be so much information you’re not going to need it all at one time. You’re going to need it at different times. You’re going to feel overwhelmed.’ They make you feel comfortable.”
“The person who ran the legal workshop was intimate with not only divorce law but with Michigan divorce law and it was almost like having an attorney to start to make you aware of some of the issues in advanced of hiring the attorney. (I also ended up getting an attorney and started the whole legal process. The amazing thing is I actually found my attorney from the Women’s Center as well.)”
“They have a number of printed materials they pass out, and they talk to us about the legal aspects of the divorce. And knowing what things to anticipate when the process gets started. It put me completely in the driver’s seat.”
“Similarly for the financial track. Talking about bankruptcy: When do you have to consider bankruptcy? Talking about how dividing assets will affect you, the selling of your home. Each piece of information had its own issue and if you had no idea what those issues were — it was like going to school. Once I had a lot of the information it was basically like a tool kit to go out and start solving the problems piece by piece.”
“The great thing was there were other women in this group. Group was amazing. It helps for one thing to understand that you’re not alone. There are a lot of other people going through the same exact problems. So it gives you. . .it takes away some of the bad guilty feelings you have about your situation. It makes it feel supportive.”
Susan participated in 33 counseling sessions at an income-indexed scale of $35 per hour with a graduate student intern. As with all Women’s Center interns, Susan’s intern therapist – who was in her second year at U of M med school when she decided to get her social work education — was closely supervised by a volunteer clinician with years of counseling experience.
“I had a really excellent connection with the person I worked with and in the past I hadn’t had that. She was just very good, very professional. Everything presented itself professionally about The Women’s Center. It has a really nice appearance. It’s neat and clean. Everyone is very professional.”
In therapy, Susan focused on prioritizing and problem-solving, skills to cope with stress, managing loss and life transitions, and developing healthy self-care. “I would describe my engagement with The Women’s Center as a life saver,” she says. “You think that you are equipped to be an adult and take care of your life. It’s so easy to get married. It takes no time at all. But getting divorced is totally an upheaval. We have no idea.”
“The trauma in the beginning was just awful. To me I kind of equate it to the experience of someone dying but the bad part of it was that he wasn’t dead. [She laughs.] I think a lot of the support structures you might get when somebody dies I didn’t have.”
“And I came to each session with some new challenge that felt insurmountable — some new challenge, something had happened like he had done this, or I learned about this, or was I going to even have the courage to get up in the morning? Because it really felt like that. I felt like I was just — that I completely did not have a choice. I absolutely had to do this. I did not have a choice. Maybe that’s one thing that some of these other women feel. like they have nowhere else to turn.
“Everything that I experienced at the Women’s Center has given me life tools, this sort of independent spirit that I have now — that I’ve gained self-confidence. “
Susan has recovered from their joint business bankruptcy and is running her own successful small business independent of her ex-husband. She says, “So in that way it’s been kind of a life empowering situation to have been engaged with The Women’s Center that I think will stay with me forever.”
In closing, Susan says, “I’ve got to pay it forward. For me: it saved my life. And if I can help other women get through this, that would be an awesome feeling.”
“The word to get out [about The Women’s Center] is low cost, essential assistance for major life problems. And especially . . . especially if you’re in crisis.”